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Aaron was Braves’ Original 30-30 Man

September 1, 2019

Hugh Atkins

Last Friday, Ronald Acuña, Jr. stole his 30th base of the season and joined Henry Aaron (1963), Dale Murphy (1983), and Ron Gant (1990, 1991) as the only Braves players ever to steal 30 bases and hit 30 home runs in the same season. Acuña is on pace to have a remarkable year, but I’m not sure he will equal the season Aaron had in 1963.

The Braves were still in Milwaukee in 1963, and they finished in sixth place in the National League with a record of 84-78. Aaron hit .319 with 201 hits. He led the league in runs batted in with 130, runs scored with 121, total bases with 370, slugging percentage at .576, and on-base plus slugging at .977. Aaron and Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants tied for the league lead in home runs with 44. Aaron’s on-base percentage was .391, which was second in the league to his teammate, Ed Mathews (.399). Aaron stole his 31 bases in 36 attempts. Such a season usually would be good enough for the Most Valuable Player Award, but amazingly, Aaron finished third in the voting.

© T.C.G.

Sandy Koufax of the Los Angeles Dodgers was the near unanimous choice for NL MVP in 1963. The Dodgers won the pennant and knocked off the New York Yankees in the World Series. Koufax had a phenomenal year; he was 25-5, which tied Juan Marichal of the Giants for the league lead in wins. Koufax led the league with a 1.88 earned run average, strike outs with 306, and shutouts with 11. Koufax was the unanimous choice for the only Cy Young Award given; this was before baseball gave an award to a pitcher in each league.

I lean toward the belief that pitchers should not be eligible for the MVP Award. Pitchers have their own award, which Koufax rightfully won. While Koufax had a remarkable season, he appeared in only 40 of his team’s games while Aaron played in more than four times that many (161). Koufax received 14 first-place votes to Aaron’s one.

The primary reason Koufax won the award over Aaron is that the voters lean toward players whose teams win the pennant; but that isn’t always the case. Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs won the MVP Award in1958 and 1959 despite his team having a losing record and finishing in fifth place both years.

© T.C.G.

Koufax winning the MVP Award over Aaron is one thing, but how in the world could any informed voter think that Dick Groat of the St. Louis Cardinals also had a more valuable season than Aaron?

Groat had a fine season; he matched Aaron exactly with 201 hits and a .319 average, and he led the league in doubles with 43. But from that point on, there really is no comparison. Groat hit six home runs, scored 85 runs, and drove in 73. He received four first-place votes for MVP.

Groat was a shortstop, and voters have lower expectations for middle infielders, be it in postseason awards or Hall of Fame balloting. Second baseman Jim Gilliam (.282/6/49) of the Dodgers received a first-place vote, perhaps benefiting both from being a middle infielder and being on a team that won the pennant.

Postseason awards are always fodder for debate. Aaron certainly isn’t the only player who upon further review may have deserved a MVP Award (and 1963 isn’t the only season), but there are no do-overs. If there were, Aaron would win at least one of the awards Banks received–and Paul Newman would win an Oscar for Cool Hand Luke.

(All statistics are from Baseball Reference.)

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